Empty Stocking Fund

Mom who is working, attending college seeks help

Nikale Davis essentially has three full-time jobs.

She’s a single mother of two, a college student and works as a teaching assistant with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

When politicians argue over low salaries in the state’s education system, it’s people like Davis who are often cited as examples. She makes less than $24,000 a year, which is about a dollar more an hour than a shift manager at McDonald’s.

However, such details don’t register with her 6-year-old son Liam, who is convinced Santa is bringing him a robotic dinosaur ... or a motorcycle. So Davis, 33, has joined the 5,000-plus other struggling parents who registered to get gifts this year from the Salvation Army’s Christmas program. (Her 14-year-old son, Dorian, is too old to qualify.)

The Christmas initiative recruits donors to “adopt” the names off Angel Trees for toy purchases. Children who are not adopted will get toys purchased by the Salvation Army, using money donated by Observer readers to the Empty Stocking Fund.

Salvation Army officials say their intent is to grant Christmas wishes for underprivileged children, while also preventing their parents from going further into debt.

Davis, who lives in north Charlotte, says she has already had conversations with her sons about being realistic when it comes to Christmas and her tight budget.

It’s one of many conversations she’s had lately that remind her of how she’s slowly turning into her no-nonsense dad, Ron Harrell, a carpenter and truck driver who died in August of cancer. (Her mother, Conell, now lives with Davis.)

His golden rules have become hers: Appreciate what you get, take care of what you have, and value honesty more than perfection.

As a girl, she thought of her father as a tyrant, not just for his strict discipline but his belief that if he was going to work two jobs, his three children needed to work at least one.

She says she got her first job at age 14, helping out at a neighborhood day care. When she wasn’t doing that, she raked leaves for money or washed dishes. Then came a job at McDonald’s, cleaning grease traps and bathrooms.

That was fine with her dad, since it was honest work, she says.

“Whenever one job ended, I got another one. I’m teaching my sons the same thing,” said Davis, who was born and raised in Charlotte. “If there’s something you want in life, it’s not a matter of not having the income, it’s a matter of earning it.”

Her two brothers both have successful careers, one in the Army and the other working as an engineer in a naval ship yard.

Davis says her dad pressed her to finish college during his final days in the hospital, so quitting is not an option. Her goal is a degree in elementary education, and it’s going to take at least another two years to finish, she says.

In the meantime, Davis can’t help but think of her father on days when she’s trying to be a mother, an employee and a student all at the same time.

There are many wonderful things about Christmas, she says, but the greatest is that all parents, no matter how different, only have one job that day: Being parents.

“I think when we get older and raise our own children, we see our parents in a different light, and that makes us fall I love with them all over again,” Davis says.

“I don’t think you ever feel like you’re their equal. You just feel blessed that you had a parent like that.”

Her Christmas wish is that her sons Liam and Dorian feel that way about her one day, no matter what they get for Christmas.

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